Choosing the Right Document Automation Platform

The benefits of Document Automation are obvious and are well covered by other contributors. What is often overlooked however is how you go about selecting the right platform.

Document Automation is by no means a “new” technology and there are numerous platforms in the market all proclaiming to be the best. They do of course, largely behave in the same way – a user feeds information into a questionnaire which then populates a pre-configured template document – and it can, as a result, be difficult to set apart one product from another.

So, what can we look at to whittle down the options and inform the short list?

Cost

Brass tacks. The question that any vendor demo always turns on. There are a huge range of pricing and licencing models in the document automation space and it’s important to interrogate how much you have and are willing to spend on a solution in as early as possible.

Return on Investment (ROI) is notoriously difficult to pin down as documents don’t have an inherent cost value. What we can do however is start small and instead use time as the metric:

  • Calculate your time saving by asking how long it takes to draft a document manually and how long it takes to draft the same document using an automation platform. You may also want to factor in the time savings flowing from this approach and, hopefully, refined workflow.
  • Look at who is drafting the document and what their hourly rate is (either in terms of a recorded rate or by reference to their salary) and then run this against your time saving. For example, if someone’s hourly rate is £100.00 and it takes them an hour to draft a document manually versus 30 minutes using a Document Automation platform you can say that you will be “saving” £50.00 worth of time per document.
  • We then ask how many documents are typically produced within a year or month and multiply that by your time saving to produce your figures that can be held up against the licence costs. Be optimistic on this and remember that your time saving not only has a financial value but will also free up more time to do more work.

Obviously, there are several other factors to build in here and the figures can be extrapolated out as needed however this should hopefully give you a good start.

You will also need to think big – how many licences will you need in 3 years’ time? Will there be an issue if you suddenly need to get 100 more licences and is there any mechanism for reducing the overheads as the headcount goes up?

Ease of Use

This is more than just how pretty something is; we need to consider who is going to be using the platform and how they work.

There will inevitably be an element of change management when rolling out a new way of working and the best solutions are ones that effect change without the end user really knowing that it’s happened. Along with automation design (a topic for another day), the platform forms a massive part of this process – going for something that has weird foibles or system requirements isn’t going to win you any favours.

Get ‘hands-on’ as early as possible and involve your end users in the trial – never assume that you know how your colleagues work and that you’ve found the silver bullet that will change their lives.

Versatility

There are a few strands to this one.

Firstly, and linking on from the previous point, it’s always a good idea to involve the colleagues that may be setting up the base templates in any hands-on testing. Ask them to see if the platform meets the requirements of your documents and if it’s a pain to set up the templates. If it takes weeks to set up and you will need to invest serious time in re-engineering your workflows, this will all need to be factored into your budget and business case as well as being a huge factor in the change management piece. Similarly, if there are any technical limitations, these need to be identified as soon as possible.

Secondly, how versatile is the platform in terms of your existing set up? If there are Windows only system requirements (yes, the year is 2021 and there are still platforms with elements that that run like this) and half of your teams work on Macs, then you might want to choose something else.

Also look at your wider business and ask things like, can the Document Automation platform integrate with other platforms (for example if you have a CRM or sales system that it would be useful to move data between to save even more time or do you have a business need for e-signature)? do we have any data or security requirements that the platform needs to comply with? Do we need to involve IT in all of this? Can we rebrand the platform so that it matches our corporate image?

With any of these questions, don’t be afraid to look at what you might already have in your locker. Google Workplace and Microsoft 365 are increasingly creeping into this space and are notoriously underused – do some digging and see if your needs can already be met without having to bring something new into the business.

Potential

Finally, it’s well worth looking at the potential of a Document Automation platform and where it’s going. Don’t be afraid to ask about the vendor’s roadmap for the next couple of years; are there any features that are coming that would be relevant to your specific use case or does it look like they are moving away from what you need?

Also look at where the platform has come from – what is the development team’s background? do they understand the needs of the customers they are engaging with? There’s nothing worse than being railroaded by a platform or sales team that just doesn’t “get” how you work.

It can be a mind-boggling space to run a procurement process in but if you take your time and make a considered decision, the returns will be significant and set your business on a great new course.


David Law, Kikashi
David Law – Founder & MD, Kikashi

David Law is the Founder and MD of Kikashi.

A consultancy business that works with law firms, in house legal teams and product vendors.